Striving to Enter through the Narrow Gate, 30th Wednesday (I), October 30, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Wednesday of the 31st Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
October 30, 2013
Rom 8:26-30, Ps 13, Lk 13:22-30

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily:

  • “Lord, will only a few be saved?,” someone from the crowd asked Jesus today. He didn’t reply by satisfying the person’s curiosity, because he didn’t come from heaven to earth to answering the interrogatives of inquiring minds. He had come from heaven to earth to save us, and so he responded not by saying how many are saved by how any we’re saved. “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.” The word translated as “strive” is the Greek word to “agonize.” To get to Heaven, in other words, we need to agonize, like Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane, to conform our will to the Father’s. We need to work harder than an undrafted free agent gives everything he’s got in Patriots’ training camp to make the cut. We need to give just as great an effort as Dustin Pedroia and Jonny Gomes play the game of baseball. The width of the narrow door to Heaven is the span of a needle’s eye, the girth of the cross, something that is anything but easy to pass through.
  • Over the last few decades, people have gotten the notion that the Christian life is easy. Most people think, rather, that everyone gets to Heaven — except perhaps those who don’t like us, serial killers, public smokers and those who gulp soft drinks larger than 16 ounces in New York City. Such an attitude is a diabolical ambush. Jesus never taught that. He who is the Gate of the sheepfold tells us that we need to agonize to enter into him. Jesus said these words as he was on the road to Jerusalem, and we know what happened when he got to Jerusalem. He entered into his agony, the agony that led to our salvation and opened up the narrow door. But we need to be willing to follow him along that path of sacrificial love.
  • Jesus says in the Gospel today that many will seek to enter through the narrow door but not make it. They will be left outside the door, pleading, “We ate and drank in Your presence and You taught in our streets,” and, as Jesus added in a similar passage in the Sermon on the Mount, exclaiming, ‘Did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name.” Jesus says that God will then reply, “I never knew you” (Lk 13:25-27; Mt 7:21-23). Jesus is emphasizing that it’s not enough to have heard Him speak. It’s not sufficient to have eaten and drunk with Him, even the Holy Eucharist. It’s not adequate to proclaim the Gospel in His name, do exorcisms or even work miracles. After all, Judas Iscariot did all of these things, but he never really knew Who Jesus was. We need to enter into intimate friendship and communion with Him. We need to follow Him not just on the outside, but on the inside. We need to become His true friend. And we need to agonize to let go of everything in our life that’s not ordered to God, that’s not compatible with the life of faith, to squeeze in humbly to Jesus and live in that full-time loving friendship with him.
  • If this were simply a thing of willpower, we would have reason to despair. But it’s not. St. Paul tells us that God responds to our weakness. He sends the Holy Spirit to teach us “how to pray as we ought.” The Holy Spirit helps us to pray not by putting words on our lips but by changing who we are as we pray, so that we might pray conscious that we are beloved sons and daughters of God crying out “Abba, Father.” He transforms us so that we can live as we pray and confidently follow Jesus along the narrow path, so that we will be confident that all our agony, all are sufferings will be worth it.
  • That’s why St. Paul immediately adds, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Omnia in bonum — all things work out for the good, not for everyone, but for those who love God, who are responding to the call to live according to God’s purpose. This is a very important distinction. He doesn’t say that everything — including sufferings, pain and agony — work out for the good for those who don’t love God, who live not according to his will and purpose but their own. That’s not because God punishes those whom he loves and created who freely refuse to live according to the way God made them and purposed them. They don’t work out for the good because, as we know from life, our sufferings can make us either better or bitter, depending upon whether we unite them to God. For those who don’t live in God’s love, often they’ll interpret their sufferings — physical sufferings, emotional, familial, spiritual, or religious sufferings like persecution — as punishments or castigations from God. They’ll cry out why God allowed them or their loved ones to suffer. And the devil will use these agonies to alienate them from God. But those who live in the love of God, who trust in his purposes, recognize, with the help of the Holy Spirit, that God is a loving Father and will bring good even out of evil, like he brought the greatest good out of the greatest evil on Calvary.
  • St. Paul continues by saying that God the Father’s will is to conform us to the image of his Son. He predestined us for this before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. He called us to this vocation, he justified us by his grace through baptism and the other sacraments, so that through this he may glorify us in this world and forever. All of this is the work of conforming us to the “image of his Son,” which includes conforming us to him in his agony and suffering so that we might rise with him in glory.
  • The Lord wills us all to be saved. Jesus tells us at the end of the Gospel that not only will Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the prophets be in the kingdom but also those from the east and the west, the north and the south, all of whom, like the patriarchs and prophets agonized to follow God in faith as he revealed themselves to him. God will give us all the help he knows we need, just like he helped them, to squeeze through the narrow gate of life, but we need to use our freedom to heed what Jesus says to us today, to agonize to follow him through the narrow gate to life. Today as he teaches us, as he feeds us, as he works the greatest miracle of all, he reminds us that it is not enough for salvation to receive all of this externally, but that he wants us, nourished by this help, to become his true friends, to know him intimately, to enter fully into him, and to agonize with him for the salvation of all those on the east, west, north and south. And with the Father he sends the Holy Spirit to us to strengthen us in our weakness to pray this Mass and then to live this Mass.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
ROM 8:26-30

Brothers and sisters:
The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.
And the one who searches hearts
knows what is the intention of the Spirit,
because he intercedes for the holy ones
according to God’s will.We know that all things work for good for those who love God,
who are called according to his purpose.
For those he foreknew he also predestined
to be conformed to the image of his Son,
so that he might be the firstborn
among many brothers.
And those he predestined he also called;
and those he called he also justified;
and those he justified he also glorified.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 13:4-5, 6

R. (6a) My hope, O Lord, is in your mercy.
Look, answer me, O LORD, my God!
Give light to my eyes that I may not sleep in death
lest my enemy say, “I have overcome him”;
lest my foes rejoice at my downfall.
R. My hope, O Lord, is in your mercy.
Though I trusted in your mercy,
Let my heart rejoice in your salvation;
let me sing of the LORD, “He has been good to me.”
R. My hope, O Lord, is in your mercy.

Gospel
LK 13:22-30

Jesus passed through towns and villages,
teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem.
Someone asked him,
“Lord, will only a few people be saved?”
He answered them,
“Strive to enter through the narrow gate,
for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter
but will not be strong enough.
After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door,
then will you stand outside knocking and saying,
‘Lord, open the door for us.’
He will say to you in reply,
‘I do not know where you are from.’
And you will say,
‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’
Then he will say to you,
‘I do not know where you are from.
Depart from me, all you evildoers!’
And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth
when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God
and you yourselves cast out.
And people will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south
and will recline at table in the Kingdom of God.
For behold, some are last who will be first,
and some are first who will be last.”